Who are you and what is your backstory?
We are Natalie and Abigail, aka Nat and Abi, a married couple with 2 rescue dogs. We both share a love for travel, food, art, the outdoors and adventure!
Before vanlife, Natalie was working as a chef 50-60 hours a week. Her life was consumed by the restaurant. We had very little time together and we lived for our adventurous travel vacations together.
Nat actually had the idea for vanlife. Before we met, she had a chance encounter with Andrew Knapp, a vanlifer with a cute dog named Momo. An evening of conversation about the free lifestyle of van-dwelling stuck with her over the years.
Before anything, look in the mirror, and tell yourself you deserve the best version of you. Create a space where you know the only step to take is forward. Start doing research.
One day, fed up with the exhausting hours of work, Nat came to Abi with the idea of vanlife. Abi immediately said yes and jumped online to research. We bought a van 3 months later and began building.
We love that vanlife allows us to keep low expenses, so we can work less and have more quality time together. This lifestyle also encourages minimalism and intentional living, philosophies we fully support.
We also find it very empowering that we built our own home with our own two hands. It’s fully off-grid so we can spend as much time out in wild nature as we like. It’s very fulfilling to spend our days traveling, exploring, cooking and making art.
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your Vanlife?
There wasn’t much hesitation for us. Once the idea came about, we jumped in 100%. We don’t regret a thing, only perhaps that we didn’t do it sooner!
Once we made the decision, we immediately started downsizing. We went from a 1500 sq ft 3 bedroom house rental to a small 800 sq ft studio apartment.
We had multiple yard sales to help us get rid of things and this also helped us make money for our travels. We sold everything, from furniture, craft supplies, appliances and cars! The more we sold, the closer we were to our dream and the happier we felt. We couldn’t believe how much stuff we had and how good it felt to have less. Now we are very intentional with what we bring into the van. We hate clutter and only want to keep items we love.
Tell us about the advantages to the Van lifestyle?
There are so many advantages to this lifestyle. Before starting our journey, I (Nat) didn’t have many opportunities to travel. Working as a sous chef didn’t allow for much time away from running the kitchen. It is kind of a hushed thing but the food and bev industry doesn’t follow the normal 9-5 workweek or it’s standard guidelines for employee welfare. Something as simple as a real lunch break or a break at all isn’t required in independent restaurants. So taking time off to travel was just not a thing for a chef in this industry. It is not a lifestyle that a lot of people can handle. I got burnt out. I started losing my passion for cooking. I yearned to see and do more. It was time to hit the road.
Ever since, we both have experienced more in two years than in our whole lives combined. We’ve seen wonders you only read about and met folks who will forever have a place in our hearts.
On one particular day we were on an 18 mile hike in Montana and witnessed so many spectacular sights: a grizzly bear rolling in the grass, sun rays breaking through clouds to shine over 5 icy blue glacial lakes, a mama mountain goat showing her tiny kid how to find good grazing and a big horn sheep rambling along on the same trail!
Personal growth is something all of us should work daily on. Vanlife forces you to face challenges head on, constantly. It is such a divine way to explore newness and unknowns.
We’ve both picked up several new hobbies. Abi has broadened her photography project ideas and I have really enjoyed primitive cooking in nature. We also have truly enjoyed creating our YouTube channel and our @vanlifepride page, focusing on representing the LGBTQ nomads around the globe. It has been the most rewarding way of being..
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Van lifestyle?
This is a hard one to interpret because we don’t consider any part of vanlife a disadvantage. Therefore, challenges are all perspective. I think most people would say the good outweighs the bad. It is so true. Of course it is not for everyone. Not everyone is ok with not showering for days on end. Needing to plan every night where you will stay is not everyone’s cup of tea. Feeling safe isn’t always a thing. Being able to have a healthy relationship with your partner is difficult. Dealing with the heat and the cold, praying you don’t breakdown in the middle of nowhere, longing for close social ties with friends or family, and facing sitting with yourself, is a lot.
On the other side of all of this is the freedom... the personal growth and fulfillment, the stronger bond between you and your significant other. The stories you can tell, the bonds you form with folks all around the country, the sights, smells, laughs, emotional breakdowns, the lessons, the inevitable, the impossible beauties, etc. You get to live a more intentional, meaningful existence that begs to develop your humanity. You are one with nature. You are stripped back to your raw state. There is a saying “amor fati” it means to love it all. Life is one big teeter totter. Appreciating everything, the ups and the downs, allows you to live to your full potential. For us, living in a van has helped establish this mindset.
We especially remember how we spent New Year’s Eve and Day 2019/2020. We were in Mexico and were rambling down a rough sandy road to find an incredible quiet camp spot right on the coast of the pacific. It was New Year’s Eve and we wanted the perfect spot! Well… as we were backing into that just-the-right spot, our back tires spun out of control and sunk into the sand. After hours of digging, we were still stuck. No fireworks or typical end of the year fun for us that night. Exhausted, we fell asleep at a 90 degree angle. The next day, with the help of some kind strangers, we got unstuck.
We now laugh at that moment and it’s a holiday we’ll always remember.
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
The online vanlife/nomad community is a powerful space. Never have we felt more connected with people we’ve never met. The platform has grown exponentially over the last few years and there have been some amazing strides to help combat climate change, to promote diversity, etc...
Every now and then, we get to meet the folks we’ve been following and it is even more exciting. It is like actually having intellectual conversations prior to meeting in person, so you have this feeling of knowing them in another life. It’s an almost immediate connection. Then there are those we meet serendipitously. I can’t stress enough how precious that is. It’s forming a bond with someone of any color, race, religion, sexual preference, etc and stripping it all down to a friendly smile and a good conversation. You have a natural connection because you both decided to live a more minimal, intentional life...it makes forming relationships that much more authentic, deep, and meaningful.
Our family and friends can keep up with us through our social media as we give a mirrored representation of our travels. We have both found that the relationships we have formed on the road have become a sort of extended family. We have also fully accepted that our past life is simply that. Not everyone can relate to what we do now. While so many respect and support us, it is challenging to maintain certain bonds when we’ve grown so much. And that is ok. Life is all about growth and change. You must appreciate the souls in this life that can meet you at your best self because they too, are going after their full potentials.
How do you support yourself financially?
In order to fulfill our dream of traveling and living in a van, Natalie had to quit her full-time sous chef job at a local restaurant. Luckily Abigail has a photography business that she can take anywhere. You can check out her work on our website.
To financially support our life on the road, we saved money ahead of time while we both worked full time. When we hit the road, Nat quit her job and We lived off of our savings. Now, when our savings gets low, we make a visit back to our hometown, Charleston, because Abi has a lot of clients there. She can book enough work in 2-6 weeks to financially last us a whole year!
Our expenses are low, not having to pay a mortgage or rent because we live in our van really helps! Our money goes a long way now.
We are developing work that we can do from the road. Our goal is to be able to financially sustain our travels through our photo/video passions. Abi sells stock photography online. We have a YouTube channel where we document our experience living in a van full time. We also make our own cooking show, with Natalie as Chef host and Abi behind the camera and we use Patreon as a sharing platform for the show.
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
Before anything, look in the mirror, and tell yourself you deserve the best version of you. Create a space where you know the only step to take is forward. Start doing research. Start downsizing material abundance and start up cycling your mental burdens. Turn your dead ends into what drives you. Only then will all the details/logistics of this lifestyle fall into place. Mindset is key. Feeling you deserve more in life is key. We hope this inspires you to start.
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
- The alchemist by Paolo Coehlo. (An important self discovery must-read)
Useful apps for Van Life:
What does the future look like?
Once we are done with renovations, we plan to escape the hot summer by heading north then west. After nearly 6 months of renovations, We’re really looking forward to getting back on the road! Our short--term goal is to travel slow, spending a week or 2 at one place instead of a day or two. We really want to get to know places better before moving on. Our big goal is to do a pan-american adventure, driving from Alaska to Argentina. We’ll embark on this journey Post-pandemic, once borders open up and we can travel freely internationally.
It looks like we’ll be living this way at least for the next 3 years but really, there’s no end in sight anytime soon!
Is there anything that you need that you can't find or anything you are seeking help with?
We love stargazing and just pausing to take in a long sunset, so we really want to add a roof-top deck with supports for a hammock!
We don’t have much of a budget, so buying an aluminess rack or hiring a welder is not an option. We are planning to DIY, so if anyone reading this has done a DIY roof deck, we’d love to hear about it and get some tips!
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Van essentials that you couldn’t live without?
- Essential Oils - So many good uses for the Van! We put a couple drops of peppermint down our drain to keep grey water smells away. Add some lavender to a spray bottle of water and it’s the perfect sleepy time bedding spray! We even use it as perfume for ourselves!
- Hatchet or Ax - because we love a good campfire!
- Quality speaker - for playing those tunes!
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
- Baja California, Mexico
- Canadian Rockies, Banff, Canada
- Glacier National Park, Montana
Where are you now?
South Carolina, finishing our renovations and getting ready to hit the road again.
How long do you usually stay in one place?
A handful of days or a week. We want to do more slow travel where we stay 2 weeks in one place at a time. The longest we ever stayed somewhere was a 4 week stay on a beach in Mexico.
When did you first start Vanlifing?
Are you full-time or part-time Vanlifing?
How many weeks have you spent in the Van in the last 12 months?
We lived in our Van for 2 years and then decided to make some changes, the last 4 months we’ve been renovating!
What kind of vehicle/rv/trailer/setup do you have?
2004 Dodge Sprinter Van 2500
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?